There are plenty of ways to release your feelings when you have words at your disposal. You can write a journal, engage in talk therapy, or chat with a friend. But what do you do when you need to get a hold of your emotions and you don’t have words to calm you? You need visual coping techniques.

Lauren Marks tackles this issue in her book, A Stitch of Time (our current online book club selection). Her brain gives birth to a duck that she trots out whenever she needs to feel calm.

No Words Necessary

Part of the reason talk therapy is so successful is that it’s calming to take thoughts out of your brain. By speaking them aloud, they lose their power. Fear-inducing ideas suddenly feel a little more manageable. But what do you do when you can’t release those thoughts through words?

Lauren Marks finds that thinking about ducks helps her to feel calm when she begins to panic. She writes on page 215:

It didn’t have to be ducks, of course, but I found them pretty reliable as a touchstone. So whenever I got overwhelmed, I guided my mind to ducks. Cartoon ducks, usually. They wore scuba gear or tutus, they played brass instruments, they smoked cigars, and they were incredibly gassy. Words weren’t welcome in these animated sequences, just bright, silly images. This helped reverse the anxiety cycle for a little while. After those shorts played out in my brain, I still needed to face the issues at hand, but I could do so with a much more relaxed mind.

She uses these mental movies whenever she begins to panic about losing the progress she has made in treating her aphasia. Playing them in her brain breaks the anxiety cycle and allows her to tackle her fears from a place of calm rather than a place of panic.

Finding Your Visual

How can you create your own mental movie? It helps to keep replaying the same visual images so your brain is trained to relax when the thoughts begin. Imagine a place you like to visit or a person you love. Now create a small scene in that space or with that person. Look around: What are you doing? What do you see, hear, or smell?

Introduce a funny element into the mix to lighten the mood. Lauren used ducks, but you can use anything that will make you crack a smile.

Once you have a happy scene in your brain, mentally record it and then bring it out whenever you start feeling anxiety. You can use it before stressful appointments, or even schedule a break midday to “watch” your mental film. Think about how you feel both before and after you sit and think about your scene for a few minutes. Do you feel calmer after you’ve broken the anxiety cycle?

We’d love to hear what you’re using as a mental movie to create your own visual coping techniques.

Image: Andrew Wulf via Unsplash